Real Life Learning

Tag: observational skills

Bradley Wiggins and the Power of the Why Question

Over the Christmas break I have been reading the autobiography of Bradley Wiggins “My Time” which charts his year of winning the Tour de France and the Olympic Time Trial. This has been a brilliant read for me as I love following road and track cycling but I as I reflect on the book I realise there are some great insights for my organisation work.

One of the powerful influences within British Cycling has been the sports scientist Tim Kerrison. He joined the cycling team from a background in performance swimming and had “revolutionised training in Australian swimming” (p.35) As a newcomer to the sport Tim spent a year just observing the cyclists as they went about their training and their racing. Only at the end of the year did he start to set out his training programmes. To create these programmes he asked a lot of Why questions. A big question was why road cyclists do not “cool down” at the end of their races, like other professional sports people would normally do. What became apparent is that there was no real reason apart from no one did it! The Sky team started to introduce “cool downs” and the other professional racing teams have started to follow their lead.

A Year to Observe

What got me thinking was how in organisations I have never known someone to have a year to observe, see the patterns and trends, and ask questions before they start to be expected to deliver the goods. When I have worked with some organisations on developing their induction and have explored how to support senior managers joining I have often shared the useful “Your First 90 Days”  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1591391105 with senior teams and the reaction is often that 90 days of observation is too long! So imagine how a year of observation would go down! Yet without that year some of his observations would not be rooted in discernible patterns and trends, it could just be randomly observed events.

Asking Why

It was by asking why that Tim Kerrison was able to find out which of the observations he had made had a valid reason that perhaps he had not fully grasped and which observations were just because “that’s how we have always done it”. How often do we sit back in organisations and observe our normal processes and rituals and ask why we do that particular task in that particular way? I often use the 5 Why’s Technique http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm when I facilitate team events on innovation. It is a technique that people really seem to struggle with and can often get really frustrated about the process. This tells me that we are not that experienced in asking why enough. If only we did what might we uncover.

Being Open to Change

The final aspect that needed to happen was that Bradley Wiggins himself needed to be open to change. He was candid enough to acknowledge that in the past when given a training programme he would adapt it to his own needs based on the belief that he knew better than others what would work. This time he said to Shane Sutton and Tim Kerrison that he would trust them to get his body ready for the challenge ahead “get this machine working for next July”. Often when I work with managers they get frustrated because their efforts to support an employee to improve their performance does not result in the desired end point. This insight shows us that without both parties actively engaged change is not going to happen because individuals can so easily sabotage their own chances of success, often without even realising what they doing. The critical change was that there was trust between both partners and this made it possible to make the type of incremental small changes which are the critical path to the overall success of the British cycling team.

So my learning to take into 2013 for my next management development sessions is:

  • Take Time to Observe
  • Ask Why and challenge the “way we always do things round here” attitude
  • Create a climate of trust so that your employees know that you are acting in their best interests and work with you in partnership.

Can we learn leadership lessons from the Tour de France

Four  Leadership Lessons from the Tour

When the Tour de France came to London I caught the pro-cycling bug and started to grasp the fundamentals of pro-cycling which until that point I had not fully understood. Like all trainers I use stories and anecdotes to explain my learning points. These stories have to be real and have to come from your own passion so it is only natural that the Tour starts to seep into my leadership and trainer development programmes.

Lesson One: It’s All About the Team

Road racing is a great example of team work. Way better than the examples of football we used to wheel out when I worked in the law sector. In a cycling team you have clearly defined roles both on and off the road. One of the fascinating aspects is each team has a team leader and the job of the rest of the team is to protect and support that person so that they can get a win for the rest of the team. This means a real sacrifice of personal ego and also means “burying yourself” in pure physical effort to get your team leader to the front. Listen to Mark Renshaw talking about his role in supporting Mark Cavendish to get to the front. Mark Renshaw could win a sprint but he clearly defines his job is to support Cavendish and Mark Cavendish will always talk about how the team made it possible for him to achieve his win. This article from the sports Guardian outlines these roles

Tour de France 2011: Inside the Team HTC-Highroad engine room  http://bit.ly/q8QarF

Lesson Two: Support Staff are Essential

The domestiques are a bit like our admin teams in business. They do the jobs which are essential for the smooth running of the operation. They work incredibly hard to provide water and supplies at the right time and place. The difference is that in Pro-Cycling there are no plans to cut the domestiques! The admin team in cycling is not seen as a soft cut option as it is in business. They recognise that without the support of the domestiques the team leaders would not be able to achieve their race wins because they rely on this backroom support to do their job effectively.

Lesson Three: Observational Coaching and Feedback is Key

During the race the riders are given constant observation about performance of their team members and other teams. They agree a strategy at the beginning of the day and then update the strategy as the race develops. The coaching and management team see what is happening and adjust the strategy minute by minute. There is constant follow-up on the plans and how these were implemented by  the riders.

Lesson Four: Set and Monitor your Ethical Standards

Pro-cycling has had a dubious ethical background with high levels of cheating by doping and other methods. This caused challenges for teams finding sponsorship. Now many of the teams such as Garmin, HTC High Road and Sky have established a clear team ethical code which defines expectations of the team members and creates a culture where a cyclist knows that any attempts to use any drugs is just not acceptable. The equivalent of a phone hacking scandal is unlikely to happen in contemporary cycling because the team managers have set a clear code, monitor the team against the code and make the consequences of code violation really clear. Team managers do not write an ethical code and then ignore it.

So 4 lessons, can we learn something from the model? Is sport ever relevant to the organisational world?

Learning from Observations

This week I have been preparing for my new role as a tutor on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s programmes. It has got me really thinking about how people learn to do particular jobs and how formal programmes like this combine with less structured learning experiences that you have on the job. An example of this is how as a trainer you learn how to move from the expert deliverer of set materials to become more of a facilitative trainer who can handle uncertainty in the learning activities like discussions where there is no clear outcome or correct answer. I was exploring this in more depth with a friend of mine who is also working in the field and we were sharing the different elements that had encouraged us to move away from the scripted form of training. For me one important element was having the opportunity very early in my career to watch and to work alongside others.

 

It was the value of observational learning that linked with another conversation I had earlier in the month. A friend of mine works for a health authority and had done some observation and facilitation work with the team who were setting up the incident room for Swine Flu for the authority. They were facing a tough job in challenging circumstances and were in many cases following a set of emergency procedures already laid down. One observation struck me, when they were setting up the incident room they installed a large plasma screen TV. When asked what this was for the managers replied that it was so that they could play BBC News 24 continuously so that the team would be updated about what was happening with swine flu. The fact that they would be supplying the news to the BBC did not seem to strike them as negated the need for a massive TV. Further probing discovered that the managers believed that all incident centres need massive TVs.

 

This learning was not from any real incident centres in the health authority (this was their first one), probing questions established that the team were unconsciously using as their models incident rooms they had seen on TV and in films, all of which featured large scale screens. What is scary about this story is how believable it is, how much of our learning is from watching fictional examples and taking this in without any further critical analysis and then implementing strategies and approaches based on our observations of a ficitionalised situation.

 

It made me realise that valuable as observations are of both real situation and from other sources they are only part of the picture. The discussions that I had with my colleagues after the event, the reading that I did for my professional qualification and my own reflections on the observations all of these lead to the development of what I consider to be my good practice in facilitative training.

 

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